Coping with Being Alone

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Co. Photo by the author.

From an early age I engaged fully in whatever I was doing. When I was in high school, most of my time was spent studying and playing guitar. At university, I would walk the campus in a haze, thinking about what I read in philosophy class. In the military, battalion operations kept me constantly busy with something major happening at least every month. I was constantly busy and had little time for myself. At the time, I didn’t think socialization was needed.

Without my knowing it, full engagement served to separate me from people I knew. I found myself alone much of the time. I needed a way to discuss my life on a regular basis. To cope with this need, I took to journaling. Without others around, I found expression on pages filled with my ink. I recently re-read my early journals and found loneliness stands out as the most common theme, especially when I was living in Germany.

Today I believe a writer needs balance between life in society and putting words down in a document. It seems clear I needed more balance as a 20-something. I don’t know if balance returned, yet as a septuagenarian, being alone is possible and even likely. It is tolerable as a writer. Continuing my long-time writing habit hopefully keeps my mind engaged and helps me cope with separation from society that comes with aging.

Being alone is not without risk. The Centers for Disease Control reported about the health risks of loneliness.

Health Risks of Loneliness

Although it’s hard to measure social isolation and loneliness precisely, there is strong evidence that many adults aged 50 and older are socially isolated or lonely in ways that put their health at risk. Recent studies found that:

  • Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
  • Social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia.
  • Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
  • Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
  • Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly 4 times increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.
Centers for Disease Control website.

While I have written dozens of journals, tens of thousands of letters and emails, and countless blog posts, it is important to tend to alone-ness. In part, it comes with the territory of aging. By being aware of the cultural phenomenon, and doing something to cope, we can avoid the risks. We may be separated from society as we age, but we are not helpless.